Elizabeth Bishop |
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
on its string.
Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway.
Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.
Ride away, ride away,
Johnny shall ride,
And he shall have pussy-cat
Tied to one side;
And he shall have little dog
Tied to the other,
And Johnny shall ride
To see his grandmother.
Anne Sexton |
In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign --
namely MERCY STREET.
I try the Back Bay.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant's teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was.
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
with the stranger's seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.
I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
Pull the shades down --
I don't care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?
I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
and its hauled up
More great poems below...
Etheridge Knight |
Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black
faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-
fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,
cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews.
across the space at me sprawling on my bunk.
their dark eyes, they know mine.
I know their style,
they know mine.
I am all of them, they are all of me;
they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee.
I have at one time or another been in love with my mother,
1 grandmother, 2 sisters, 2 aunts (1 went to the asylum),
and 5 cousins.
I am now in love with a 7-yr-old niece
(she sends me letters in large block print, and
her picture is the only one that smiles at me).
I have the same name as 1 grandfather, 3 cousins, 3 nephews,
and 1 uncle.
The uncle disappeared when he was 15, just took
off and caught a freight (they say).
He's discussed each year
when the family has a reunion, he causes uneasiness in
the clan, he is an empty space.
My father's mother, who is 93
and who keeps the Family Bible with everbody's birth dates
(and death dates) in it, always mentions him.
There is no
place in her Bible for "whereabouts unknown.
Nikki Giovanni |
I always like summer
you can eat fresh corn
From daddy's garden
And lots of
And homemade ice-cream
At the church picnic
And listen to
At the church
And go to the mountains with
And go barefooted
And be warm
All the time
Not only when you go to bed
Alice Walker |
When Golda Meir
Was in Africa
She shook out her hair
And combed it
Everywhere she went.
According to her autobiography
Africans loved this.
In Russia, Minneapolis, London, Washington, D.
Germany, Palestine, Tel Aviv and
She never combed at all.
There was no point.
Places people said, "She looks like
Any other aging grandmother.
Like a troll.
Let's sell her cookery
"Kreplach your cookery," said Golda.
Only in Africa could she finally
Settle down and comb her hair.
The children crept up and stroked it,
And she felt beautiful.
Such wonderful people, Africans
Childish, arrogant, self-indulgent, pompous,
Cowardly and treacherous-a great disappointment
To Israel, of course, and really rather
Ridiculous in international affairs
But, withal, opined Golda, a people of charm
And good taste.
Marge Piercy |
A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
but I've never seen wheat in a pile.
Apples, potatoes, cabbages, carrots
make lumpy stacks, but you are sleek
as a seal hauled out in the winter sun.
I can see you as a great goose egg
or a single juicy and fully ripe peach.
You swell like a natural grassy hill.
You are symmetrical as a Hopewell mound,
with the eye of the navel wide open,
the eye of my apple, the pear's port
You're not supposed to exist
at all this decade.
You're to be flat
as a kitchen table, so children with
roller skates can speed over you
like those sidewalks of my childhood
that each gave a different roar under
You're required to show
muscle striations like the ocean
sand at ebb tide, but brick hard.
Clothing is not designed for women
of whose warm and flagrant bodies
you are a swelling part.
Yet I confess
I meditate with my hands folded on you,
a maternal cushion radiating comfort.
Even when I have been at my thinnest,
you have never abandoned me but curled
round as a sleeping cat under my skirt.
When I spread out, so do you.
to eat, drink and bang on another belly.
In anxiety I clutch you with nervous fingers
as if you were a purse full of calm.
In my grandmother standing in the fierce sun
I see your cauldron that held eleven children
shaped under the tent of her summer dress.
I see you in my mother at thirty
in her flapper gear, skinny legs
and then you knocking on the tight dress.
We hand you down like a prize feather quilt.
You are our female shame and sunburst strength.
Katherine Mansfield |
In the middle of our porridge plates
There was a blue butterfly painted
And each morning we tried who should reach the
Then the Grandmother said: "Do not eat the poor
That made us laugh.
Always she said it and always it started us laughing.
It seemed such a sweet little joke.
I was certain that one fine morning
The butterfly would fly out of our plates,
Laughing the teeniest laugh in the world,
And perch on the Grandmother's lap.
Robert William Service |
Your children grow from you apart,
Afar and still afar;
And yet it should rejoice your heart
To see how glad they are;
In school and sport, in work and play,
And last, in wedded bliss
How others claim with joy to-day
The lips you used to kiss.
Your children distant will become,
And wide the gulf will grow;
The lips of loving will be dumb,
The trust you used to know
Will in another's heart repose,
Another's voice will cheer .
And you will fondle baby clothes
And brush away a tear.
But though you are estranged almost,
And often lost to view,
How you will see a little ghost
Who ran to cling to you!
Yet maybe children's children will
Caress you with a smile .
Grandmother love will bless you still,--
Well, just a little while.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan |
I imagine them walking down rocky paths
toward me, strong, Italian women returning
at dusk from fields where they worked all day
on farms built like steps up the sides
of steep mountains, graceful women carrying water
in terra cotta jugs on their heads.
What I know of these women, whom I never met,
I know from my mother, a few pictures
of my grandmother, standing at the doorway
of the fieldstone house in Santo Mauro,
the stories my mother told of them,
but I know them most of all from watching
my mother, her strong arms lifting sheets
out of the cold water in the wringer washer,
or from the way she stepped back,
wiping her hands on her homemade floursack apron,
and admired her jars of canned peaches
that glowed like amber in the dim cellar light.
I see those women in my mother
as she worked, grinning and happy,
in her garden that spilled its bounty into her arms.
She gave away baskets of peppers,
lettuce, eggplant, gave away bowls of pasts,
meatballs, zeppoli, loaves of homemade bread.
"It was a miracle," she said.
"The more I gave away, the more I had to give.
Now I see her in my daughter,
the same unending energy,
that quick mind,
that hand, open and extended to the world.
When I watch my daughter clean the kitchen counter,
watch her turn, laughing,
I remember my mother as she lay dying,
how she said of my daughter, "that Jennifer,
she's all the treasure you'll ever need.
I turn now, as my daughter turns,
and see my mother walking toward us
down crooked mountain paths,
behind her, all those women
dressed in black
Copyright 1998 © Maria Mazziotti Gillan.
All rights reserved.
Louise Gluck |
My mother's playing cards with my aunt,
Spite and Malice, the family pastime, the game
my grandmother taught all her daughters.
Midsummer: too hot to go out.
Today, my aunt's ahead; she's getting the good cards.
My mother's dragging, having trouble with her concentration.
She can't get used to her own bed this summer.
She had no trouble last summer,
getting used to the floor.
She learned to sleep there
to be near my father.
He was dying; he got a special bed.
My aunt doesn't give an inch, doesn't make
allowance for my mother's weariness.
It's how they were raised: you show respect by fighting.
To let up insults the opponent.
Each player has one pile to the left, five cards in the hand.
It's good to stay inside on days like this,
to stay where it's cool.
And this is better than other games, better than solitaire.
My grandmother thought ahead; she prepared her daughters.
They have cards; they have each other.
They don't need any more companionship.
All afternoon the game goes on but the sun doesn't move.
It just keeps beating down, turning the grass yellow.
That's how it must seem to my mother.
And then, suddenly, something is over.
My aunt's been at it longer; maybe that's why she's playing better.
Her cards evaporate: that's what you want, that's the object: in the end,
the one who has nothing wins.
Louise Gluck |
In our family, there were two saints,
my aunt and my grandmother.
But their lives were different.
My grandmother's was tranquil, even at the end.
She was like a person walking in calm water;
for some reason
the sea couldn't bring itself to hurt her.
When my aunt took the same path,
the waves broke over her, they attacked her,
which is how the Fates respond
to a true spiritual nature.
My grandmother was cautious, conservative:
that's why she escaped suffering.
My aunt's escaped nothing;
each time the sea retreats, someone she loves is taken away.
Still she won't experience
the sea as evil.
To her, it is what it is:
where it touches land, it must turn to violence.
Eugene Field |
Oh, a wonderful horse is the Fly-Away Horse -
Perhaps you have seen him before;
Perhaps, while you slept, his shadow has swept
Through the moonlight that floats on the floor.
For it's only at night, when the stars twinkle bright,
That the Fly-Away Horse, with a neigh
And a pull at his rein and a toss of his mane,
Is up on his heels and away!
The Moon in the sky,
As he gallopeth by,
Cries: "Oh! what a marvelous sight!"
And the Stars in dismay
Hide their faces away
In the lap of old Grandmother Night.
It is yonder, out yonder, the Fly-Away Horse
Speedeth ever and ever away -
Over meadows and lanes, over mountains and plains,
Over streamlets that sing at their play;
And over the sea like a ghost sweepeth he,
While the ships they go sailing below,
And he speedeth so fast that the men at the mast
Adjudge him some portent of woe.
"What ho there!" they cry,
As he flourishes by
With a whisk of his beautiful tail;
And the fish in the sea
Are as scared as can be,
From the nautilus up to the whale!
And the Fly-Away Horse seeks those faraway lands
You little folk dream of at night -
Where candy-trees grow, and honey-brooks flow,
And corn-fields with popcorn are white;
And the beasts in the wood are ever so good
To children who visit them there -
What glory astride of a lion to ride,
Or to wrestle around with a bear!
The monkeys, they say:
"Come on, let us play,"
And they frisk in the cocoanut-trees:
While the parrots, that cling
To the peanut-vines, sing
Or converse with comparative ease!
Off! scamper to bed - you shall ride him tonight!
For, as soon as you've fallen asleep,
With a jubilant neigh he shall bear you away
Over forest and hillside and deep!
But tell us, my dear, all you see and you hear
In those beautiful lands over there,
Where the Fly-Away Horse wings his faraway course
With the wee one consigned to his care.
Then grandma will cry
In amazement: "Oh, my!"
And she'll think it could never be so;
And only we two
Shall know it is true -
You and I, little precious! shall know!
Kimiko Hahn |
things don't die or remain damaged
but return: stumps grow back hands,
a head reconnects to a neck,
a whole corpse rises blushing and newly elastic.
Later this vision is not True:
the grandmother remains dead
not hibernating in a wolf's belly.
Or the blue parakeet does not return
from the little grave in the fern garden
though one may wake in the morning
thinking mother's call is the bird.
Or maybe the bird is with grandmother
Or grandmother was the bird
and is now the dog
gnawing on the chair leg.
Where do the gone things go
when the child is old enough
to walk herself to school,
her playmates already
pumping so high the swing hiccups?
Mark Van Doren |
How far is it to peace, the piper sighed,
The solitary, sweating as he paused.
Asphalt the noon; the ravens, terrified,
Fled carrion thunder that percussion caused.
The envelope of earth was powder loud;
The taut wings shivered, driven at the sun.
The piper put his pipe away and bowed.
Not here, he said.
I hunt the love-cool one,
The dancer with the clipped hair.
Where is she?
We shook our heads, parting for him to pass.
Our lady was of no such trim degree,
And none of us had seen her face, alas.
She was the very ridges that we must scale,
Securing the rough top.
And how she smiled
Was how our strength would issue.
Not to fail
Was having her, gigantic, undefiled,
For homely goddess, big as the world that burned,
Grandmother and taskmistress, frild and town.
We let the stranger go; but when we turned
Our lady lived, fierce in each other's frown.